Live vs. Pre-recorded Webinars: Should You Stream or Automate?

Gavin M.
Gavin M.
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You've decided it's time to host a webinar. The question is whether you live stream or pre-record your webinar to run automatically. Both have pros and cons, making them equally valid options depending on what you need from your webinar.

Let's look at both options to run a webinar, so you can decide which is best for you.

What Is the Difference between Live Webinars and Pre-recorded Webinars?

Live webinars are when you stream live events on the web for your audience to watch simultaneously in real time. That means viewers are watching and reacting as you talk or perform actions live on camera. In other words, it's the digital equivalent of a live audience.

Pre-recorded or automated webinars are just what they sound like—they're recorded and edited before being released to viewers. Your audience can technically watch the pre-recorded presentation at any time, which depends on if you set a specific schedule or not. Many webinar software providers offer live features during pre-recorded presentations so viewers can still interact with you via chat or you can jump in via video.

In other words, you can pre-record your presentation, but make it seem live by hosting a Q&A session, and enabling polling or live chat features.

The Pros and Cons of Live Webinars

Now that we understand the differences between live webinars and pre-recorded webinars, let's look at what live webinars offer and lack.


  • Emotional connection


    Live webinars create a stronger emotional connection than pre-recorded webinars. As mentioned, live streaming enables immediate interactions between the speaker and the audience, enabling a genuine atmosphere of feedback and collaboration.
    Your viewers aren't simply viewers—they become participants in the live webinar. This nuance can go a long way toward your live stream's success. If your audience feels like they're part of the live webinar, it can entice them to stay engaged.

  • Live Q&A


    Live streams also enable live Q&A sessions, which give the audience a chance to ask questions and get immediate feedback. And while you can enable Q&A with pre-recorded webinars, you won't be there every hour of the day to answer questions of every session.

WebinarJam Live Chat Feature

WebinarJam Live Chat

  • Simpler to implement


    Live streaming is quicker to launch than pre-recorded webinars. Get your webcam, mic, and live-streaming platform set up in minutes, and you can be live-streaming your webinar content right away. You don't have to worry about editing content or post-production elements.

  • Identify top followers


    You can better understand who your top followers and fans are. You can see who's engaging and sticking around till the end, giving you invaluable insight into your most engaged viewers. If you host multiple live webinars, you can start to identify those viewers who keep coming back to reward their loyalty or create special offers or incentives just for these people.

  • Be first to market


    Webinars are the ideal platform to share industry-leading insights with your audience. With live streaming, you can be the first to market or even a trendsetter for new topics and ideas. Share exciting news live during the webinar, or give breaking updates on the live stream. All before anyone else knows about it.

  • Sense of Urgency


    Finally, live streaming creates a sense of urgency that pre-recorded webinars don't offer. People know they have to join live or miss out, which can incentivize them to register and attend. This is especially relevant to paid live streams, as Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a powerful tool for live webinar promotion.


  • Tech difficulties can disrupt live streams


    While live streams are simpler to set up than pre-recorded webinars, tech difficulties can still disrupt them. If your live stream isn't running smoothly, it's up to you (or someone else) to troubleshoot the issue live on air. That can mess with the live webinar's flow and give viewers a bad experience.

Webinar Panic Room Feature

WebinarJam’s Panic Button to The Rescue

  • Not everybody can join the live stream


    Live streams also have the disadvantage of not everybody being able to join live. People may be in different time zones, live in different regions, or even have other commitments that make it hard for them to attend live. This can diminish your webinar's impact and reach, as only a portion of your audience will be live viewers.

  • Mistakes or bloopers cannot be hidden


    Not having to be a professional webinar presenter is a double-edged sword. It allows virtually anybody to live-stream webinars and opens up the possibility of mistakes or bloopers happening live.
    Most people underestimate how many things can go wrong. Something unexpected can show up on your screen (like a cat); you may forget what you want to say, or you could fall from your chair.

  • Unwanted visitors


    Lastly, live streams can be prone to unwanted visitors and trolls. Just like live presentations, live webinars can be vulnerable to trolls and people with bad intentions. If you don't have proper moderation in place, these issues could detract from your live webinar's quality and leave a sour taste for your live viewers. These trolls may use the live chat or reaction functions to spam or display offensive content.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-recorded Webinars

Next up are pre-recorded webinars. Here are the main pros and cons to consider:


  • Saves time


    Automated webinars can run around the clock and thus are not dependent on your time. Instead of presenting the same webinar over and over to generate new leads, you can automate these types of webinars and constantly gain new leads without having to repeat them. All it takes is a good recording that always delivers the same quality. Some providers, such as EverWebinar, even specialize in making your automated webinars look like they are live by allowing you to enable features such as dynamic viewership (viewers see fictitious audience numbers that adjust as the webinar progresses) and chat simulations. With chat simulations, you can predefine and time chat interactions. For example, you can create a user called "Jason" who always asks a question in the public chat at minute 37. You can then tailor your recording to the exact names and questions, so people will think without a doubt that you're live right now.

  • Remove problematic sections


    Perhaps the biggest advantage of pre-recording your webinar is being able to go back and remove any sections that didn't work out well. For example, you might have a bad habit of saying "Umm" too often during live presentations, or your live stream might have had technical difficulties. With pre-recorded webinars, you can go back and remove any sections that didn't work—ensuring viewers only get the best version of your presentation.

  • A live stream can be recorded and shared long after it ends


    Anybody who couldn't join your live session can still watch a replay or automated session if you set it up like that. This extends the reach of your live stream, allowing you to reach even more people. Plus, some live viewers may not have grasped everything the first time around.

    By making it available on demand, everyone can go back and review any sections they might have missed or watch the entire live stream again to ensure they fully understood it.

  • Extended feedback


    While live-streaming gives you invaluable feedback in real-time, the respondent pool is limited to those who join live. With pre-recorded webinars, you can reach a much broader audience. This benefit allows you to get more feedback and data. And since data works best with a larger sample size, pre-recorded webinars can really help you gain more insight from your webinars.

  • More comfortable for the speaker


    A certain pressure comes with live streaming for experienced presenters and beginners. That live chat and live reactions can be overwhelming, especially if people are being unkind or inconsiderate in the chat section.

    As your viewer count goes up, so does the pressure. With pre-recorded webinars, you can relax in your own time and focus on delivering a great presentation without any live stressors.

  • Add more content


    Lastly, you can superimpose a live stream with extra content. For example, you can add additional slides, videos, or other materials to your live stream by editing your video. You can also add live polls, surveys, and links to other resources.


  • Lacks engagement


    One of the major cons of pre-recorded webinars is that viewers may not be as engaged as live viewers. After all, live feedback and live chat give people a sense of connection to the speaker—which isn't quite the same in pre-recorded webinars. Additionally, some people may see it as no more than a "boring" video, as live webinars tend to be more interactive and dynamic. While you can make your viewers think the webinar is live, you cannot actually engage with the real audience unless you are present.

  • Can take away the element of surprise


    Another disadvantage of pre-recorded webinars is that viewers may miss out on the element of surprise and energy that live webinars can bring. People are more likely to be excited if you're announcing a new product or feature live. With a pre-recorded webinar, they may have seen it elsewhere (such as Twitter or YouTube). Therefore, they may not be as interested.

  • It can take a long time to prepare


    Pre-recorded webinars can take a long time to produce. Instead of a simple one-off presentation, it becomes more of a video editing and production project. This can take a lot of time away from other tasks, as it requires recording, editing, and uploading the video, which can be quite time-consuming.

The Hybrid Approach

As you can see, both sides have many advantages and disadvantages. The question remains: Who wins the battle of live streams vs. pre-recorded webinars? The answer for most people lies within the purpose of the webinar. Another answer lies in a hybrid approach.

The hybrid approach simply means to start with a live webinar and record it to make it available on demand or automate it for a few daily or weekly sessions. This way, those who missed the live webinar can still watch the recorded version and receive all the same information. But you’ll still reap the benefits of live streaming for maximum engagement.

A hybrid approach can also be to start off with an automated webinar and just be there live in the chat. This can also be someone from your team who is always there to answer questions during the scheduled sessions.

To follow this method, you'll need a webinar software solution that supports live webinars and pre-recorded webinars in the form of replays, on-demand, and automated webinars. For our previous example, this would be the second plan of WebinarJam, allowing you to also use the features of EverWebinar.

For a more comprehensive overview, make sure to check out our Best Picks to discover the overall best webinar software on the market.

Final Thoughts

Being aware of the pros and cons of live vs. pre-recorded webinars can help you decide which method is best for you. You can always opt for the hybrid approach, which combines the best of both worlds.

Whichever solution you decide is right for you, ensure it meets your needs to deliver a great experience for your attendees.


Can I host a Q&A session during a pre-recorded webinar?

When are live webinars better than pre-recorded webinars?

When are pre-recorded webinars better than live webinars?

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Filmmaker turned into marketer and tech geek. Sounds sad, but I absolutely love it. I manage webinars and virtual events to help companies reach new heights and stun their audience.